NO MATTER WHAT THE HOUR or how gridlocked the traffic, there is always time for everything in Mexico City. During Zona Maco México Arte Contemporáneo, the art fair with the Aztecan skull logo, four-hour lunches and late-night dinners blend yesterday into today and tomorrow while somehow imparting a sense of progress.
Tuesday, April 9 began this year’s push to festivity with the annual gallery hop through the Polanco, Roma, Condesa, and San Miguel Chapultepec neighborhoods. Due to a late arrival from New York, I missed much of the tour, but caught up with what Dallas collector Christen Wilson called the VIP “tequila wagon” at Kurimanzutto, which was previewing a Gabriel Orozco exhibition scheduled to open on Saturday.
The show—of carved and inscribed river stones ranging from the size of a human head to a shoebox—made for some voluptuary viewing. Chatty gallery artists Damián Ortega, Abraham Cruzvillegas, and Gabriel Kuri mixed with chummy gringos—collectors, art dealers, museum curators, and visiting art fair chiefs like Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp, Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, and Ch.ACO (Chile) director Irene Abujatum. Casa Dragones Tequila flowed over the bar in the gallery’s garden commissary, where caterers from Rosetta, one of the city’s better restaurants, served off-the-charts hors d’oeuvres for a party so jolly that it was tempting to stay the night.
However, when curator Mariana Munguia offered a ride to Proyectos Monclova, a bunch of us were off to another boisterous gathering of young artists giving a solid to Edgardo Aragón’s photographs, sculpture, and videos. My thirst for culture not yet slaked, I elbowed my way back to the street and headed to Proyecto Paralelo, the graphic arts arm of Madrid’s estimable La Caja Negra. A pasta dinner celebrating shows by Joan Jonas and José Pedro Croft was in progress in the building’s penthouse. Earlier, Jonas had performed a reading of what she called “an epic list,” actually the poem she wrote for Masks, Dolls and Baskets, her new livre d’artiste from James and Alexandra Brown’s Oaxaca-based Carpe Diem press. Now the indefatigable artist was relaxing with former student Carlos Amorales, the Browns, the collaborative duo Lake Verea, Mexico’s cultural attaché in the UK Vanessa Arelle, and Neuer Berliner Kunstverein curator Sophie Goltz.
Next morning, the VIP caravan, minus the tequila, arrived at the Centro Banamex to preview Zona Maco’s tenth edition. Starting next year, it will take place in February instead of April. Under cofounder and director Zelika Garcia’s guidance, it has gained in stature and sophistication, but its dates, April 10–14 for 2013, fall between other fairs in São Paulo, Cologne, and Brussels. That has hampered its ability to attract young international collectors, said artistic director Pablo del Val, as well as galleries that might do well to try it out. Meanwhile, with about two hundred galleries participating, and more than 35,000 visitors coming through the doors—a family outing for many—this year’s fair was its most conceptually oriented, and most rewarding in the realm of Latin American art, whether offered by galleries south of the border or north.
Zona Maco newbies Stefania Bortolami and Michael Kohn looked a little lonesome at first, unaware that collectors here tend to wait till the fair’s last two days to pounce. “I love the pace of this fair,” said Spiegler. “This is such a strange fair,” countered dealer Daniel Buchholz from his all–Danh Vo booth. “You see some very great things and then it’s like we’re back in the ’70s.” Buchholz had a surprise in store: his Berlin gallery’s new director, Peter Currie. Only the day before, Currie had sent an e-mail announcing that he and Alexander Zachary were not going to open a new space in Harlem after all. “It didn’t work out,” Currie said. “But I think this is a good move for me.” Zachary, he said, would announce his new affiliation in New York soon.
At Kurimanzutto, where Kuri had a beautiful tapestry of printed receipts, writer Sarah Thornton was interviewing Orozco for her next book. A couple of Israeli collectors were doing business at OMR, and at the Proyectos Monclova stand, Kunsthalle Basel director Adam Szymczyk, accompanied by artist Alexandra Bachzetsis and Museum für Gegenwartskunst curator Nikola Dietrich, was buying one of a group of small paintings by the Mexican collective Tercerunquinto—for a friend, he said. Lured by the same paintings, I wished I had been that person.
There was more to keep the eye open—a lot more. Josée Bienvenu brought winning trompe l’oeil drawings of conceptual works by Martí Cormand and sculptures by Dario Escobar, whom she called “the Richard Serra of the poor,” while Michael Fuchs offered striking paintings by Mongolian-born artist Gama, who “grew up in a yurt.”
Zona Maco offers three curated sections organized around the central gallery booths, and Buccholz’s stand was in one of them: Zona Maco Sur, given to solo projects that this year’s curator, Juan Andrés Gaitán, saddled with a “historical consciousness” theme. “I wanted works that were about human encounters with history,” he said, instantly aware that he sounded a wee bit pretentious. But this is where Marc Foxx brought Amalia Pica, Travesia Cuatro had Gonzalo Lebrija, Krinzinger settled on Kader Attia, and Dubai’s Third Line weighed in with Slavs and Tatars. At 80m2 Livia Benavides, Peruvian artist Rita Ponce De León created what she called “a playground for adults,” though small children were the only ones who took up her invitation to rearrange the many small wooden objects that she placed on a mat to double either as toys or weapons. “You can join them or make them disappear,” she said. That was fun, but the favorite sister of the fair was probably artist Teresa Margolles, whose work about deadly drug wars resonates powerfully here.
By the 4 PM start of the vernissage, I had seen barely half the fair. After a break for the inevitably long lunch from the satellite kitchen of the Hotel Habita, I headed for the New Proposals section, where twenty-one galleries presented solo projects by emerging artists. They included Brazilian Carlos Herrera, who bagged and veiled sculptural objects for the Ruth Benzacar booth and is totally into sex, death, and madness. Daniel Pérez Ríos, an entertaining young Mexican sound artist with Alternativa Once gallery, is into politics and pornocore. G. T. Pellizzi collected refuse from the beaches of Tulum for the Massimo Audiello stand, where he also displayed porcelain jugs, toys, combs, and bottles inspired by the garbage.
So goes the art life in Mexico, a most hospitable place. That night the fair held its tenth anniversary dinner for uncounted hundreds in a onetime convent—now a party space, naturally—in the historic downtown. People seated themselves on tall chairs at high tables, from which it was possible to survey the room, and the two white BMWs perched on a platform, lest anyone forget who was sponsoring the event with Audemars Piguet.
All thoughts of commerce flew from the ladies’ room, where two exotics were fluffing up their drag. The taller, transgender one introduced herself as Zemmoa. “I’m a singer,” she said. Strategically placed bills from various currencies were pasted to her friend’s nearly naked body. “I’m her treasure,” said Priscilla Pomeroy of Zemmoa, who is also an underground nightclub host and whose path mine would cross several times that week—starting with later that night at Le Baron’s temporary outpost in the basement of the Hotel Condesa. I might not have mentioned it, but that party was a blast. Tag teams of DJs that the club’s Tolga Al imported from New York kept everyone on their dancing feet for hours—till 7 AM for some, I heard, when Michael Hoppen changed hotels in order to get some rest.
Strong coffee helped me into the van that drove sleepy stragglers like curator Abaseh Mirvali out to the suburban Jumex factory, where Eugenio López Alonso’s Colección Jumex was getting its last exhibition before moving to its new David Chipperfield–designed headquarters in Polanco. Once again, Gaitán was the guest curator, with Jumex’s Magalí Arriola. Unlike previous shows presenting dozens of works, this one had a modest seventeen—all by male artists. When I asked Gaitan where the women were, he could only shrug. “It just worked out that way,” he said lamely. “We wanted it to be, uh, strong,” he added, clenching his meaty fists. He and Arriola—a woman, he pointed out—had a Tacita Dean in mind for the otherwise handsome show, an affair with nature titled, “The Hunter and the Factory.” Yet somehow Doug Aitken’s Migration got in instead.
I had no quibble with that. Migration is one of Aitken’s best works. But surely there was room for one more—except, perhaps, in the precincts of the muy macho. I didn’t see Arriola, but the general feeling was the same. “It could have used a female sensibility,” Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn agreed. “You’d be surprised how often this still happens.”
All was forgotten, if not forgiven, by evening, when collectors Tato and Gabriela Garza hosted their annual Zona Maco dinner in the garden of their plush, Lomas estate. With about sixty guests, the party was more intimate than usual, but just as grand. And of course everyone took time to check out the art inside the house. One piece was a small block of hair cut from people of competing social classes by Gabriel de la Mora, who lost his own hair in his early twenties. “A balance of the conceptual and the formal—that’s what I’m looking for,” he said.
Next morning, it was off to the cavernous MUAC, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, where there were five exhibitions, including the Asco show imported from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. But the attention getter here was a performance orchestrated by Laura Lima, involving a harnessed naked man attempting to pull the whole building down.
After a quick brunch, we set out for the fortresslike Museo Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli, an astonishing stone pile that the artist built with architect Juan O’Gorman to house his extensive collection of pre-Columbian art. Each year, the institution invites a contemporary artist to make an installation within. This year, James Brown, a Californian living in Mexico, placed his own ceramic sculptures, paintings, and collages throughout the building for a show he called “My Other House.” It was definitely a highlight of the week.
Yet there was more. That evening, the Museo Tamayo stayed open late, so fairgoers could peruse its current exhibitions by Amorales and Pica, as well as an outstanding, even revelatory, retrospective for the late Juan Downey, the Chilean-born buddy of Gordon Matta-Clark. Organized by the Tamayo’s chief curator Julieta González, it had far more space and clarity than the Bronx Museum had been able to give a similar show last year. But Mexico City generally endows its museums with lavish proportions, as if assuming their contents were actually important. So when Zona Maco rolls around again, next winter, expect delightsand brush up on your Español.